Our city boasts two casinos. They are popular places not just for locals, but for people from all over of every race and creed and age and tax bracket. As a cab driver you drive a lot of people to and from the casinos at night. Most people lose. Some still had fun. Others are frustrated with themselves for not walking away sooner. Some blame casinos and enlighten me with their conspiracy theories on how the corruption and rigging occur. End of the day, conversations with people who have just left the casino are always fascinating.
When people ask if I have fascinating or larger than life cabbie stories, many come from the casinos. Some are funny and will make you lose your breath. Some of scary and I prefer not to tell those very often. Some. Some stories are sad and stick with you.
One night I was sitting at the casino hoping for a flag in a dead period. I got one. A hispanic man about my age started ambling from the casino exit to the valet area where I was parked. I put on my seat belt, put away my book and reading glasses and started the motor.
He got in the backseat and told me he wanted to go to the other casino. This is not an unusual request. People want to try their luck somewhere else or they had a bad experience or they are tourists checking everything out for their instagram or they are addicts. Hector had a different reason.
Almost as soon as we left the casino he had removed a rosary and was praying it through grit teeth and bitter tears. I asked,"What's going on?"
Hector: My mom died.
Me: Oh God Hector, I'm so sorry. Why are you out at casinos, Hector?
Hector: I need to give her a decent funeral. She deserves that. My dad bought her a plot once. It's the only thing that son of a bitch left her other than pain.
Me: Okay. How much are you spending tonight?
Hector: I took out everything. I gotta do this. I gotta make her proud.
Me: Jesus, Hector! How much do you have left?
Hector: A few hundred.
Me: C'mon man. We can go home. We can double back and go home right now. I can restart the meter.
Hector: I got to man. She was my mom.
I have a pretty good track record calming down angry customers, talking them out of bad ideas and other such things. I tried every trick in the book to talk him into going home and not the casino. This was him mission. She had told him in her final days she just wanted to be cremated so as not to be a burden. It was what she wanted. He would not have that. He wanted to offer her a memorial for the ages.
I dropped him off and pleaded one more time. The fare was $17. He gave me to $20 bills. I tries to give him one of them back. He would not have it. He told me thank you for caring and went in to likely lose the last of what he had.
After he was out of sight I went in the lobby and found security. I told him about Hector. He asked me if Hector was drunk. He was not. Security told me that if Hector felt he had a problem, he could give Hector the number for gamblers anonymous. Hector's problem is a dangerous mixture of grief and love.
I left. I wish Hector had left.